Covid-19 deaths and cases remain unabated. Although the latest round of national lockdown measures have been withdrawn, return to normalcy will not be easy. Vaccination as we know is the only effective solution in the fight against coronavirus. Some Western economies are now recovering faster than expected after their successful mass vaccination campaigns. Bahrain, Bhutan, Mongolia, Qatar, and Singapore are some Asian countries leading the drive to inoculate their people. Bangladesh was well ahead of many countries in rolling out vaccinations initially, but the initiative burned out due to lack of supplies and severe capacity constraints in the health sector, as explained in the cover article of this issue of Policy Insights. Proper planning and timely sourcing of vaccination, backed by ground level implementation can bring down patients with serious illness and hospital admission, as seen in the UK despite persistent Covid infections.
In this 13th issue of Policy Insights, two articles provide an in-depth analysis of the FY22 national budget in the backdrop of the global pandemic. In response to the first Covid-19 surge starting in March 2020, the government took a series of measures to contain the spread of the virus and declared several stimulus packages, valued at about TK. 1,200 billion (4.3% of GDP), to help stem the downward spiral of economic activities. It was followed up with a new budget for FY21 which has continued to increase expenditures on health care and implementation of additional support measures, besides expanding the stimulus package to trigger and sustain economic recovery. Appropriately, the dual policy of addressing the adverse consequences of the pandemic while keeping the wheels of the economy running appears to be the key underlying strategy of the FY22 budget.
A strong positive correlation between poverty incidence and the intensity of natural hazards is found, as districts that are ranked as most exposed to natural disasters record poverty rates that are higher than the national average. Several countries in the past have responded to such environmental consequences with green growth strategies. An article in this issue discusses Bangladesh’s need in developing and implementing a fully fleshed-out green growth strategy with efforts redoubled to address upfront the growing cost of environmental degradation and adverse effects of climate change to attain national targets. While past efforts to contain these costs have been helpful, they do not add up to a comprehensive response strategy.
Over the past two decades, Bangladesh has recorded the fastest and most stable rate of GDP growth among developing countries facilitating stellar performance of various socio-economic indicators and progress in human development. The pivotal role of the government supported by several of the world’s most lauded NGOs was a key to the steady and sustained social and economic development. However, the shift from domestic-oriented policies to outward-looking export-oriented model ignited Bangladesh’s rapid economic growth, which has not lost steam yet. An article in this issue discusses the evolution of Bangladesh’s trade policy regime and its orientation over the past 50 years, and argues that completing the unfinished agenda of trade and tariff reforms that began in the 1990s to steer them to their natural conclusion should be a priority. The sooner the antiquated tariff regime is abandoned while making the tariff structure reflective of a dynamic export-oriented economy, the better is the country’s chance of diversifying exports and fueling post-Covid economic recovery.